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As Salone del Mobile turned Milan into a madhouse of design, there was one quietly eloquent exhibit that seemed to speak a different language. In a solemn space as pristine white as a laboratory, lights traced circular orbs on the floor and scored walls with glowing colors. While others vied to define the latest shapes, shades and materials of design, the Italian duo of Formafantasma took a more disquisitive tack, showing 16 lamps where the principal material was light itself. Each was spare in form with magical results, with the light sharpened through a magnifying lens, striated through colored glass or bounced off of polished brass. Weary explorers of Milan’s overwhelming design week stood suddenly wide-eyed in the room, trying to capture images of the enchanting effects.

“Lighting is technical, but at the same time it’s emotional,” said Simone Farresin who, with his partner, Andrea Trimarchi, founded Formafantasma (meaning “ghost form” in Italian) eight years ago in Amsterdam. “We liked the idea of working with light because it has this very poetic and expressive component—it’s subliminal even, so the designs can affect people at a very sophisticated level.”

The exhibit included prototypes of designs Formafantasma created this year for the Italian lighting giant Flos, like a color spectrum lamp devised to counter the dismal light of the Dutch winter. “Having multiple tones evokes memories,” said Farresin. “Without being literal, it connects with the viewer at an intimate level, conjuring positive memories of rainbows and prisms.”

The emotions of Formafantasma’s design experiments originate in the extraordinary symbiosis of the couple’s long-lasting creative and romantic alliance. Farresin and Trimarchi worked their way through design school in Florence together, completing their assignments as a team—an approach they said fits with the communal style of the Italian Radical architects who founded their school—ISIA Design Firenze—in the ’70s. They tackled graduate school in Eindhoven as a duo, and then moved into a space in Amsterdam that is both their design studio and home, where Trimarchi (“the boss,” jokes Farresin) regiments the tenuous division between their professional and personal time.

“It works. It’s wonderful,” said Farresin. As creation is always a shared project, dinner discussions are inevitably about ideas—never emails, deadlines or “stressful topics”—just what they enjoy, intensely, with a unified vision: design. “We like the same things,” said Farresin. “We realized that when we disagree, it’s generally because it’s not a good idea, so we just drop it.”

The pair, on their way to lecture design students in Chicago, as another exhibition of their work was opening at the Nomad fair in Monaco, looked forward to a densely packed year that will include creating an entirely new body of work for a show at the National Gallery of Melbourne—a chance to explore fresh territory. “We are interested in formalizing experiments,” said Farresin. “It makes the investigation more exciting. We know where we’re starting, but we never know where we’re going to end up.”

“Lighting is technical but at the same time, it’s emotional.”

“Lighting is technical but at the same time, it’s emotional.”

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